This Week's Wow: Why an Eco-Wetsuit Should Give Fashion Designers Something to Think About
In this weekly feature, InStyle’s Fashion News Director Eric Wilson shares his favorite fashion moment of the week, and explains how it could shape styles to come.
The Moment: This has been a newsy week for eco-friendly fashion, a subject that is increasingly important to consumers as we all try to make smarter decisions about how much and what to buy when it comes to clothing. H&M announced on Friday that it has maintained its position as the world’s top purchaser of certified organic cotton, citing 2013 rankings from Textile Exchange, a nonprofit that promotes sustainability in textile manufacturing. And, in a different twist, Patagonia began selling a wetsuit for surfers that is partly made of guayule, a natural rubber derived from a desert shrub.
While it is always a good idea to be skeptical of companies’ claims of environmental friendliness, since so many use greenwashing as a marketing tool, the wetsuit, in particular, should be of interest even if you’re not likely to ever wear one. Most wetsuits are currently made of neoprene, the spongy, petroleum-based synthetic material that happens to be having a major moment on designer runways, used not only for form-fitting swimsuits but also to create dramatic volume in those ubiquitous-among-the-street-style-set cocoon coats and sweatshirts. Fashionable, yes, but with a highly toxic manufacturing process, it’s not great for the environment.
Why It’s a Wow: Patagonia began developing its first bio-rubber wetsuits, made in a partnership with Yulex Corporation, a few years ago. The latest versions, with examples starting at $529 and now available on Patagonia’s web site, are made of a 60/40 blend of guayule and neoprene. But the company’s goal is to eventually eliminate neoprene entirely from its products and to urge other surfwear manufacturers to buy Yulex products, thereby creating more demand and hopefully driving down their cost. If some big fashion designers get on board, that could help.
Naturally, there is a catch, which is, as with all things eco, the tendency to be a little too crunchy. As part of its introduction of the Yulex wetsuit, Patagonia announced a fall advertising campaign that features the slogan, “We have the best weed in town (and we’re giving it away).” As far as I know, guayule is not yet a controlled substance.
Learn More: Eco-friendly fashion still has a long way to go. While H&M’s use of certified organic cotton is laudable, and growing, it still represents less than 11 percent of the overall cotton bought by the retailer. Be sure to read hangtags and product descriptions carefully to make sure what you’re buying is really green – and not just the color. H&M offers detailed reports on its sustainability plans. Another fashion company worth checking out for its environmental initiatives is Kering, where designers like Stella McCartney and Hedi Slimane of Saint Laurent detail their efforts to make the luxury conglomerate a leader in the movement.
For real-time insider insights, make sure to follow Eric Wilson on Twitter (@EricWilsonSays).